East Ramapo Voters Keep School Board in Place

South Madison Avenue Elementary School. Built in 1959, was an elementary school for the East Ramapo district. It now houses the district administration. (Richard/Flickr)
South Madison Avenue Elementary School.
Built in 1959, was an elementary school for the East Ramapo district. It now houses the district administration. (Richard/Flickr)

East Ramapo residents went to the polls on Tuesday, approving a nearly $225 million school budget and reelecting the four school board members who were up for reelection.

School Board chairman Yehudah Weissmandel, and members Bernard Charles Jr. and Pierre Germain, were returned for another term by comfortable majorities. All three were endorsed by leaders of the local Jewish community, which includes Monsey, New Square and Spring Valley, and were opposed by candidates who were backed by the anti-Orthodox Preserve Ramapo.

Sabrina Charles-Pierre, who was seeking election to the unexpired term she was appointed to last year, ran unopposed. She received 4,943 votes.

Weissmandel won with 7,548 votes versus Natashia Morales, his Preserve Ramapo-backed opponent, who received 4,356 votes. Charles won with 7,897 votes while Kim Foskew got 3,932 votes. And Germain emerged with 7,780 votes over Jean Fields’s 4,094 votes.

The board has nine members, three of whom face the voters each year so that the entire board is reelected every three years.

Community activists celebrated the victory, which came after a short campaign.

“The campaign just started on Friday morning,” one local activist told Hamodia. “I’ve never seen a campaign so successful with such a small amount of time spent.”

For the second year in a row, voters endorsed the school budget, a contentious issue in East Ramapo, where the majority of residents send to private school and get little return from their tax money. The spending blueprint was approved by 4,544 votes, compared to 3,615 who voted against.

The nearly $225 million budget is up about 3 percent from last year, and raises taxes by 1.70 percent. According to statistics compiled by the Rockland County-based Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council, yeshivos receive less than $30 million a year in textbooks, security and busing.

There are approximately 23,600 private school students in East Ramapo, compared to a public school population of fewer than 8,000 students.

The election comes as some state legislators seek to impose a veto-empowered overseer over the Orthodox-led East Ramapo school board. The monitor would be in place for five years. Last year Assembly Democrats voted by an unusually narrow margin to set up the monitor but it was stymied by the state Senate, which is controlled by Republicans.

Officials close to Albany told Hamodia on Wednesday that it is unlikely that the issue of state oversight will be addressed in this year’s session, which ends next month.

In related news, the East Ramapo school board on Monday gave Deborah Wortham a three-year contract as superintendent, making permanent the job she’s held on an interim basis since October.

Board members had not been happy with her performance but were unable to come up with a different candidate, the local activist said.

“She’s not doing that great of a job,” the person said. “She’s more of a politician than an educator. But I think they just don’t have anyone else.”

Wortham has not come out with a position on state oversight and was praised by supporters of both sides of the issue.

Weissmandl lauded her as the cause of “a large part of the reason for our progress since last year.”

“There is still a great deal of work to do in East Ramapo, but we are confident that with Dr. Wortham leading us, the process of reforming the district will continue and that we will build on our success,” Weissmandl added in his statement.